After the tragic death of a loved one, everyday life can be overwhelming and complicated. Add researching “how to file a wrongful death claim” to that, and things can get even more complicated. When your loved one has passed away because of the negligent or intentional actions of someone else, one of the last things you want to do is read legal resource after legal resource trying to compile all the information you need to find a way to pay your loved one's final bills. Our Andrus Law Firm wrongful death lawyer in Utah has written this blog to answer frequently asked questions about wrongful death claims.
If you still have questions about filing a wrongful death claim, please contact Randy Andrus and his team at 801-535-4645, or by filling out our online form. Once we receive your message, we'll reach out to you to schedule a free initial consultation to review the facts of your case.
What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
Utah Code section 78B-3-106 defines wrongful death as a death caused by a "wrongful act or neglect of another.” Wrongful death can occur as a result of the following:
- A negligent action, such as an accidental car wreck or defective product malfunction
- An intentional action, which includes crimes like assault and battery
- Medical malpractice, when a medical professional acts negligently or carelessly in diagnosing or treating a patient who dies as a result
Wrongful death claims are filed to provide legal remedy to the victim's family. Your wrongful death lawyer in Utah can help you file your claim.
Common causes of wrongful death include car accidents, semi-truck crashes, product defects, medical malpractice, birth injuries, defective drugs, occupational hazards, nursing home abuse, assault and battery, and workplace accidents.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Utah allows the deceased person's heirs or personal representative to file a wrongful death suit. Utah Code section 78B-3-105 includes the following “heirs” who are permitted to file suit on behalf of the victim:
- The surviving spouse
- The surviving children over 18 years of age, including adoptive children
- The surviving parent(s), including adoptive parent(s)
- The surviving stepchildren, if they are under 18 years of age when the death occurs and financially dependent on the deceased
- If no legally defined heirs survive, other blood relatives may be included
What Must Be Proven in a Wrongful Death Action?
To hold the defendant responsible for the action that resulted in the death of a loved one, a plaintiff is typically required to prove four basic things in a wrongful death claim:
- The death of their loved one
- A ‘wrongful act, neglect, or default of the defendant that caused the deceased's death
- Survival of heirs who suffered the loss of the deceased
- The appointment of a personal representative for the deceased
The following elements will also need to be proven for the court to order the defendant to pay damages to the family of the deceased:
- Duty of Care - The plaintiff must provide proof that the defendant had a duty of care to the deceased. A common example of this is in the case of a vehicle accident a defendant would have a standard duty of care to the plaintiff to not engage in reckless driving and follow the rules of the road.
- Breach of Duty of Care - Proof must be provided by the plaintiff that the defendant breached that duty of care. In the case of the vehicle accident, perhaps the defendant breached his or her duty of care when she ran a stop sign (breaking the law), which resulted in the death of the deceased.
- Causation - Lastly, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant's breach of duty directly caused the deceased's death and caused damages to the family, as opposed to some other factor like a defect of the deceased's vehicle.
It is your wrongful death lawyer's job to establish the above-mentioned duty of care, breach, causation, and damages related to your case.
What Legal Remedies Are Available in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death claim compensation may include economic, non-economic, or punitive damages. These claims compensate the surviving loved ones for losses incurred as a result of the intentional or accidental death; the deceased's estate can also receive wrongful death compensation. Legal damages may include the following:
- Medical expenses
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Pain and suffering that the victim experienced at the time of death, as well as pain and suffering of the surviving family as a result of the loss
- Loss of companionship, love, society, comfort, care, protection, or guidance
- Loss of earning potential, including total estimated potential wages and benefits the deceased likely would have earned, had she lived
Depending on the details of your case, you could receive additional economic or non-economic remedies. Additionally, the court may award punitive damages, which are intended to punish the defendant for his behavior in an effort to deter similar situations in the future.
Your wrongful death lawyer will help you calculate the damages associated with your specific case to ensure you get the compensation you need.
Are There Any Time Limits for Filing a Wrongful Death Suit?
The statute of limitations for wrongful death suits in Utah is two years after the deceased person's death date. However, if the suit is being filed against a government agency, the statute of limitations is one year.
If the cause of the death wasn't discovered until after the two-year timeline (one-year timeline in the case of government agencies), the “discovery rule” may apply. For the discovery rule to extend the statute of limitations, it must be determined that the plaintiff used reasonable diligence to “discover” the cause of death before the lapse of the deadline.
Wrongful Death Claims Vs Survival Actions
While wrongful death claims are meant to provide legal remedy to the loved ones of the deceased, survival actions are intended to provide legal remedy to the estate of the deceased. Survival Actions take the place of a personal injury suit that the deceased would have had had she or he survived. Utah Code § 78B-3-107.
Survival actions are brought by the estate of the deceased and any rewards are distributed to that estate. Compensation in a survival action may include both economic and non-economic damages, including pain, suffering, and monetary losses from the time of injury to the time of death. A survival action is a separate claim usually brought in conjunction with a wrongful death claim.
Should I Hire a Wrongful Death Lawyer in Utah?
Yes, it's advisable to have a wrongful death lawyer in Utah by your side. Randy and his team at Andrus Law Firm are trusted, experienced, and committed to getting their clients the legal remedies they deserve. For 37 years, we've worked diligently to tell the stories of our clients and represent them to the best of our ability, and we have a long track record of success to prove it.
Don't go through this tragic time alone. We're a law firm that cares about you, and we'll keep you informed on the progression of your case from start to finish. Reach out to our wrongful death law firm at 801-535-4645 , or fill out our contact form. We'll schedule a free initial consultation to review the facts of your case and recommend next steps for you.